Layered hedges to shining butterflies: Big ideas for small gardens

Why have one hedge when you can have two layered hedges? Let’s put five separate seating areas in our average-sized backyard! Who wants to settle for a garden gnome when you can have huge shining metallic butterflies! ‘More is more’ seemed to be the mantra at the gardens I visited recently on a tour in Niagara On The Lake in southwestern Ontario in support of the Shaw Festival. Big ideas for small gardens were everywhere. Here are some of the best ideas I saw:

A double hedge frames the view

When you don’t have a lot of space but want to create big impact, this is a great idea. Just like a decorative panel or trellis, the smaller hedge in front takes up little space (it’s only about 2 feet in depth) but creates a dramatic frame and adds extra texture while keeping with the formal theme of the garden.

Two layered hedges add dimension to a small garden

Eye-catching plants and garden sculpture

Reflective surfaces always add more dimension to a space. The stainless steel butterfly and oversized glass ball shown here also effectively took your attention away from the nearby hedge and fence of their gardens.

A small garden with lots of spaces

This garden (seen in the next four photos immediately below) is much wider than deep and slopes down from the house to the back of the garden. The skillful use of colour and line, plus playing up various elevations, turns what could’ve been garden design challenges into assets. As you enter the back garden from the side of the house, you’re immediately greeted by a red hot invitation to sit and relax. Once you tear your eyes away from this seating area, you can’t help looking down the curving pathway which runs along the width of the yard at the bottom of the garden. A small pond and garden statuary along the pathway and another seating area tucked into the far corner of the garden at the end of the path all work to keep you focused on looking along the width of the garden which is the much greater distance.

An outdoor kitchen, complete with dining area, sits on a raised platform adjacent to the house. You can just make out two bar chairs at the far left side of the photo (below, left). The kitchen’s half-wall does triple duty as counter top, bar area and cocktail-seating-for-two with a view that looks directly over the red patio furniture (in the above photo). Also attached to the back of the house but at the opposite corner, another raised deck offers just enough seating area to share a morning coffee. Remarkably, there’s yet another seating area situated between the two areas shown in the photos directly below. This middle area felt like a distinctly different space because it’s at ground level, squeezed between these two elevated decks.

A garden gate with a split personality

Thanks to strategic planting–a clematis on one side, a Japanese maple framing the other side–this arbour with gate looks completely different from either side. What a clever way to make you feel like you’re stepping between two worlds.

An extended garden for neighbours to enjoy

This was the last stop on our tour and it was the perfect finale. We entered a small garden that sloped downwards from the back of the gardener’s home. A meandering path led you between densely planted flower beds filled with blossoming annuals and perennials, including a spectacular peony (seen below). At the bottom of the short slope, a bridge over a dry creek and a meandering pathway led you off the property. Up ahead was a shady woodland garden owned by a generous neighbour who had transformed over an acre of land that connected the back gardens of several homes. You can see the dry creek bed (below, far right) leading your eye towards this woodland garden.

Even though the home owners had small gardens directly behind their homes, each must have felt that their’s was much, much larger with this gorgeous view filled with hostas, ferns and mature trees set off by curving expanses of lawn. A large, fanciful arch (immediately below, far left) tucked to one side of the garden seemed to promise a long walk ahead but it actually marked the entrance to a short path that simply arced through a wilder patch of shrubs. An eye-catching white bridge spanning a small creek that ran the length of the area helped to keep you focused in the centre of the garden and effectively made the surrounding houses vanish. A wisteria-covered pergola (seen in the photo in bottom row, far right) announced the entrance to the private property of the gardener responsible for this amazing shared space.

Both the front and back private gardens of this generous person were quite tiny. A curving path led from the spectacular, wisteria-covered pergola (above right) up to the back of the house and around to one side where tall outdoor walls added a sense of drama and made you think there was more room than there actually was. A walled “secret garden” at the side of the house was the size of a parking space for a single car but its herb garden seemed magical. In the front, formal boxwood topiary in wooden containers contrasted with beds of flowering perennials, evergreens and blossoming shrubs and trees.

This garden is a wonderful blend of rustic and formal. I love how several container plantings (in the bottom row, above, far right) so charmingly combined the two gardening styles by using formal Versailles-style wooden boxes, filled with clipped evergreen shrubs, and given a rustic trimming of woven twigs. Having a strong garden style or theme can make a big difference in creating a big space out of small one. Whether your taste runs to layered hedges or shiny butterflies, go for big ideas in any of your small gardens.

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